Ironic really

August 23, 2009

On the weekend when more people voted to say they should be allowed to “smack” their children than voted for the government in the last election (hat tip: Kiwiblog) we find that not only does violence towards children cost lives, it also costs $2bn a year.

Perhaps if we didn’t have some of the worst levels of violence against children in the OECD I could find some sympathy for the argument that parents should be allowed to raise their children as they see fit. I’m a firm believer in the federation approach (International law stops at the national border. National law stops at state level. State law stops at local level. Local law stops at the front gate and so on) but there are some things that simply transcend your rights as a parent.

I’ve seen lots of parents smack their children including my own and including me. Never have I seen an adult say in a calm, sensible manner “I’m sorry, you’ve transgressed one of my rules and I must now administer a firm whack to the backside in order to convince you of the error of your ways” or similar. Not once. Instead every single instance has been of a parent or adult lashing out in anger, losing control.

I remember my last day at primary school in the small village where I grew up in Bristol. There was a kid in my class (can’t remember his name) who was really annoying. He annoyed everyone, including and especially the head mistress.

On the last day in the last assembly he did something to set her off and she hauled him out in front of everyone, pulled down his pants and proceeded to tan his hide.

We were horrified, not at his behaviour but at hers. She completely lost it. She was red in the face, incoherent and flecks of spit were flying everywhere. I seem to recall one of the other teachers having to step forward to put a stop to it.

That was 30-odd years ago but I can see it today as clearly as I could then.

Perhaps if we stop the casual smack of children, perhaps if we stop the pretence that this is all done in the child’s best interests, perhaps if more people step in and say “that’s unacceptable” then we’ll get through to those people on the outside edge who seem to think it’s OK to beat their children to death. Honestly, can we say that the way we handle child abuse today is as good as it gets?

Dita De Boni’s column has one of the most awful pieces I’ve ever read and not because of the writing (far from it). She details an absolute litany of failure on the part of New Zealand parents. It’s well worth a read if only because it counters Michael Laws’ hideous column of self-righteous outrage fit only (really) for the talk back circuit.

At least Mike Moreu gets it.

And why not drop the government a supportive email while you’re at it. It looks like they’re responding a little too sharply to the pollsters these days. Let them hear from the actual voters instead.


5 Responses to “Ironic really”

  1. Karen Says:

    hey paul

    thanks for this. as a mother who is now about 15 years away from having had preschoolers to keep me on my toes, i can clearly remember the day when i felt i went too far – a smack on my son’s bottom that came from red rage … and the last time i ever smacked either of my children. it frightened me more than it frightened him i think – and it was telling that it occurred at a time when the stress levels in our family from other areas were high.

    never again.

    which is why i feel very strongly that the law needs to stay in place, and be made to work. Even more importantly, the issue needs to continue to be widely discussed and families supported with strategies that empower parents to find other ways of dealing with their own anger, and teaching their children without the use of violence.


    • audent Says:

      That’s exactly how it happened with me and my tiny terror. It wasn’t about me correcting her behaviour, it was about me reaching the end of my tether.

      I just don’t understand how we can sit there with some of the worst instances of child abuse in the world and claim it’s our god-given right to smack our children in a loving and warm way. Maybe if we were at the top of the rankings, that would be an argument I’d listen to. But as we sit near the bottom… I just hope the government remembers that badly worded, leading questions deliver one-sided responses that should not be trusted when formulating law.

  2. Karen Says:

    i have a question about the wording of the referendum … i am assuming that it was so badly worded, because that was the wording on the petitions that resulted in the referendum being initiated, rather than anyone in government having an influence? Do you know?

  3. audent Says:

    I believe that’s right (happy to be corrected). Didn’t John Key come out and say he wouldn’t be voting because the question was so badly put together?

    It’s like asking “who wants to ban Christmas”. Of course people are going to vote one particular way when it’s framed up so badly.

    It wouldn’t be acceptable for me to correct my wife’s behaviour or my mother’s behaviour or my work mate’s behaviour with a spanking, so why should it be OK when it’s someone who has limited support like a child?

    I just don’t get it.

  4. Mysterious Dave Mather Says:

    The wording of the referendum was ridiculous.

    “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

    Point one, as the law stands it isn’t illegal to smack your child. A remarkable level of misinformation, and abysmal refuting, in the press about that point. The police are empowered to decide if the incident they saw is assualt, it just removes the possibility for people to claim that the 2 by 4 they were using to belt their kid with was for discipline’s sake. You know the cases: the abuse cases that raise the ire of the entire New Zealand public everytime we hear of them. Second point, the referendum didn’t address the actual issue its writers were interested in. Section 59 of the Crimes Act wasn’t even mentioned.

    So, they have had a referendum, but it actually doesn’t legally enforce the government to do anything. But, my prediction is that the government will fold.

    Audent, you are right: physical violence is more about the adult losing control than anything else.

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